How to Be Happy Without Spending Money: Lessons from my Toddler

It seems that kids are not the only ones who have a lot to learn from adults. In some cases, we have a lot more to learn from them and I am grateful for the fact of having such a wonderful baby boy who is here to teach me some things I never knew and some things that I had forgotten since becoming an adult.

And one of the most important things that my eight months-old baby is trying to teach me is how to be happy without money. Because, clearly, it’s possible.

We decided that we won’t turn our kid into a spoiled little brat that has everything that he wants and ends up not knowing how to value experiences over possessions. I’ve seen way too many times kids being completely uninterested in small toys and wanting bigger, better and more expensive ones, only to forget about them as well when even bigger and better toys become available.

As a result, our eight months old has no more than a dozen or so toys. We have friends whose houses are filled with toys of different shapes and sizes an sometimes I am ready to give in and buy some for my son, just like everybody else. Because he deserves the best, right? And, from the point of view of an adult man, the best is the same with a lot.

However, my toddler decided to teach me a lesson.

It all happened the other day when I was at the computer, writing, and I hear him starting to laugh like he never did before, from his bed. He was all alone there, so I turned to check out what was happening. He was laying on a side, with his back at me, hugging a little blue elephant toy that he has for a couple of months already.

I moved a little to the side to see the entire scene and I was really shocked: you could see happiness in his eyes while he was pushing away the little toy, then quickly dragging it towards him, chewing it a bit and then fondling its noisy ears. And he was laughing, looking at that blue toy, and he was pushing it away once more, then doing it over and over again. A toy that he has for about two months. A small, uninteresting – maybe a little stupid toy.

What really made me give a better thought to the situation was the fact that he was so happy. Not necessarily the laugh as he likes to laugh a lot, but that sheer, genuine, complete happiness that you could read in his eyes. He was wearing his house clothes – with already washed up colors – and playing with an old toy and still he was absolutely happy.

He doesn’t need more. Nobody needs more – but we live in a society where we are made to believe that we actually need a lot more to be happy.

Possessions – we are told that we need things. I need a new t-shirt, I need new shoes, I need a bigger screen TV and a new smartphone. My laptop is already two years old and even though it still works flawlessly, I need to upgrade. I need more. I need more. I need more, otherwise I can’t be happy.

And what do I need in order to get more? I need money. Eventually, it all gets to this: you need more money to be happy.

Because no matter how much you make, you will still reach that point where you will need more. And strangely, as you all probably know as a general truth: people who have more money are also unhappier. And despite knowing this generic truth, we still refuse to be the adults we say we are and we still care what the Joneses say and do and have and we need to be like them.

And we are trained to believe that we need things. When we actually want them. When we are actually taught to believe that we want them.

My baby boy is, right now, the purest, most sincere and happiest person in our house. His needs are basic and the same can be said about a grownup’s needs too: we need a place to sleep, we need food on our table, we need water to drink and wash ourselves, we need people to socialize with and we need entertainment to stay sane. But we invent so many extra needs in our quest to become happier, managing only to make our lives more miserable.

I have read so many stories of people who sold or gave away everything they got and decided to live on their own, somewhere deep in the forests or up high on the mountains. They claimed to be happier, I considered them crazy. But now I see it: they are not. We are the crazy ones and we don’t let the lessons taught by our kids, for example, turn us in the right direction.

My kid taught me the other day how to be happy without money. He doesn’t need stuff. He can even play and have just as much fun with our clothes, with his clothes or with his feet… everything else is just a bonus. A bonus that, unfortunately, ends up ruining everything by turning you into a person – like everybody else – who wants more. And this is generally the road to unhappiness.

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16 thoughts on “How to Be Happy Without Spending Money: Lessons from my Toddler”

  1. Hi C
    It is amazing that we are taught lessons about life from people who we don’t expect. I have to live a simple life, as I have been out of work now for 10 months.

    See, I lost my job when I came to Romania last year. That was my choice. I screwed up badly. But I have people there who I care about deeply, and that’s why I want to come back. So, I had to come back to Australia to start again. I have to do without a lot of things now, due to not being able to find work since coming back, but, I stay positive. Maybe one day, if I can get paid work, I will be able to return. I have even applied for work in Bucuresti (as this is where my loved ones are), but without diplomas etc., I have next to Buckley’s chance of getting a job there.

    I miss the simple life I had in Bucuresti, where I was happy. I was dead broke there, but I was happy with the people that surrounded me, with their love.

    Like your son, with his blue toy elephant, his happiness was with something that didn’t cost much. He will most probably have his toy elephant for many years to come, because of its simplicity. He will value it, because of the times he enjoyed it as a child, and will appreciate it because it came from you, and Mrs C. the Romanian.

    Sorry I dribbled on there C. I do a bit overboard with my comments, as you know.

    • Indeed Shawn, I guess that we should all learn and remember that living with our loved ones is more precious than anything else. Back in college, I remember a February 14th that I spend with my girlfriend, now Mrs. Romania: it was freezing outside and snowing and we were dead broke too, just like most of the students. We only had money to buy one cup of tea from a street vendor for 1 leu (about $0.30) and we shared it to get warm. We sat on a bench in front of a large store with a ton of products on display, we hugged and started to pick them: “That one is for you… and that one is for you” and so on. And we were not sad, we had each other, we had our cup of tea and we were able to have fun too. Having the power to do this is, in my opinion, more important than all the money in the world.

      Getting back to you, though: have you considered starting up blogging?

  2. My best memories are from when l was a kid with no worries. I was the 7th kid in the family, and even though things were better by the time l was born, the older ones all lived in 2 rooms with my parents. I remember patiently waiting for the clothes to get passed down to me, even though it took years, it was still new to the few toys to get passed down. We played with each other, football and the few dolls . My favorite thing to do was sit on this old slide that had a mango tree above it, and as soon as my parents left for work, l would grab a well read comic book or an old novel and sit for hours eating mangoes and watching the soccer matches consisting of other kids in the neighborhood . It really doesn’t take much to be happy. Why do we forget that all the time??? Glad Baby C is a happy little camper, l’m sure it’s a joy unlike no other.

  3. C, what a wonderful post. We are all so blessed just to have a warm place to live, and food to eat, and loved ones to share love with, but we forget that so often, don’t we? Thanks for an uplifting and joyful reminder that happiness is a choice.

  4. This one is truly is a great post! We don’t really need everything, most of the time we just want it, and that’s when things can get out of hand for some of us.

  5. C: Such a lovely story! It made me misty-eyed. It’s a shame we ALL can’t keep our childlike innocence; the world would most definitely be a better place!
    If we could ALL be happy with what we’ve got, and not always try to keep up with the Joneses, as you say! (Usually, a lot of the Joneses are in fact NOT happy, as they can’t stop to “smell the roses.” Sorry, so many clichés from me!)
    You and Mrs. Romania are great parents, knowing what is best for your son! Hopefully, more people will take your advice to heart!
    ~Teil (USA)

    • Hopefully… I remember reading recently a meme on a photo which showed a little kid and the text: “I won’t know what violence is until you teach me.” Although we could go in depth and agree that in this case it’s not really true, what matters is the message and the fact that indeed if we would keep more of our younger selves innocence, things would be a lot better.

  6. Great story and so true. Baby LRC has as much fun playing with a box than he does with a new toy. Honestly, I think he’s just happy when you are interacting with him and playing with him…no need for expensive toys.


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